News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

On the campaign trail

First of all, kudos to UTEC and other sponsors of the Youth-led School Committee Candidates’ Forum, broadcast live last night on LTC.  THey had a unique and interesting format which allowed two 10-minute open discussions on a given topic, lightning rounds that allowed only “yes” or “no” answers (most of the candidates had trouble with this one!) and a “free-for-all” which allowed the candidates to ask each other questions. They also had a performance by a young singer.  (More youth performances will be showcased at the Youth-led City Council Forum tomorrow night – see previous post.) 

Other opportunities to make up your mind on the School Committee race abound.  You can see the replay of last night’s forum on LTC Channels 8 and 95, from 7-8 pm, on Thursday, November 1, Saturday, November 3, and Monday, November 5.  The Citywide Parent Council School Commitee Candidates’ Forum which was broadcast on October 15, is being shown on LET Channel 22, Thursday, November 1, at 10:30 am, Saturday and Sunday at 7 pm, and Monday at 7 pm.  They are also showing it at extra, unscheduled times in the days leading up to the election, so if you tune in to Channel 22, you may just catch part of it. 

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Youth-led forums this week

With one week left until Election Day, there are two more opportunities to hear from all the candidates in live and/or televised forums. 

1)  Youth-Led school committee candidates’ forum will be broadcast live tomorrow night from 7-8:00 pm on LTC Channel 95. (This will be an in-studio debate with no studio audeience.)

2)  Youth-Led city council candidates’ forum will be held at UTEC, 34 Hurd Street, on November 1, 6-8 pm.  Also to be aired on LTC, this forum is open to the entire community and will also include performances by local Lowell youth.  (This is also a great chance to see UTEC’s new home at the former St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and learn about their plan to renovate the space).

Sponsoring agencies include:  The Lowell Sun, UTEC, Lowell Community Health Center, Big Brother Big Sister of Greater Lowell, YWCA of Lowell, Citywide Parent Council, The GRIP Project and Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC).   

Someone asked me “what is UTEC?” the other day.  Here is the short answer, from Director Gregg Crouteau:

UTEC’s mission is to be a youth-led safe haven for youth development and grassroots organizing.  Overall, our core values focus on peace, positivity and empowerment. Through extensive street outreach, UTEC serves over 1,500 youth annually and over 150 teens every day (ages 13-23), particularly those most often overlooked and labeled as “at-risk.” 

(UTEC stands for United Teen Equality Center.)

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Subcommittee meeting broadcast tonight

For the first time, a school subcommittee meeting will be broadcast live tonight at 7 p.m. from Channel 22 studios at Lowell High School. As an initial step in a pilot project to make subcommittee meetings more available to the general public, Lowell High students working with staff will produce the meeting for broadcast at the Colleen Creegan Television Studios. The agenda for tonight’s meeting follows:  Latin Lyceum, Evening Academy, Read 180 Update, Scholarship Report, School Store Update, and Science Labs.

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New look for old school

The sun shone brightly this afternoon on the newly renovated Brady School as neighbors, elected folks, and friends congregated at the 1880s building in the Highlands to celebrate its facelift. Now home to the city’s Heath Department, the Brady School had been stripped of its siding and left in disrepair for the last four years. Renovating it cost about $150K and happened because of a partnership between a neighborhood group, the city, and our state representatives. For the Friends of Tyler Park (FOTP), renovation of the Brady School was an especially crowning achievement as they celebrate 10 years of citizen activism in the Highlands. The neighborhood group was responsible for the initial interest in the school.  (Disclosure, my husband is president of the FOTP.) Margaret Brady herself, for whom the school is named, attended today’s ceremony and fondly remembered being a first grader there in 1937. Decades later, she returned as a teacher and principal. The rebirth of the Brady School is more than an important piece of the past, or an architecturally significant building; it is also a cornerstone of pride in this busy section of the Highlands. Now, every time we walk or drive down Pine Street, we will have the opportunity to pass this beautiful old building, and it will brighten our journey. My special thanks to all those involved. To see before and after photos, check: more »

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Building partnerships to help students succeed

The 2nd Annual Mary Bacigalupo got over 100 people out of bed early on this rainy Saturday morning to hear Dr. Joyce Epstein talk about “School, Family and Community Partnerships.” The audience included school department officials, elected officials, parents, teachers, and representatives from UML and Middlesex Community College. Dr. Epstein shared results of her years of research into this topic with a focus on how perceptions have changed in the last 25 years.  As Co-chair of the parent participation sub-group formed at last year’s forum, I was particularly struck by her assertion we should not be talking about barriers and obstacles to parent involvement, but about the realities – the facts of peoples’ lives such as working two jobs, being homeless or not speaking English – that create challenges and the need for partnerships.  In Epstein’s words, “Stop blaming parents; start building partnerships!

The other important idea that I gleaned was that parent involvement is not about parents. It’s about improving student achievement.  Getting parents into the school for coffee and muffins or a potluck supper doesn’t advance student achievement unless there is some goal for students along with tips for parents to help.  Some of this sounds obvious, I know, but it is helpful to have it stated by an expert in the field.

I think my group was reenergized by some of the concrete ideas offered by Epstein; however, most valuable to me were the words of our own superintendent, Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr, who showed her usual ability to synthesize the most pertinent and complex ideas into one succinct statement: 

the goal is to find ways for schools to support parents in a complex, changing world and, in a city that is diverse, to help families find their voice, so that we are not just hearing the voices of those already speaking.  

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Full moon draws folks to school?

Maybe the huge moon hanging in the sky last night had something to do with it. With such an amazing orb overhead, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of things unseen, especially amid the cool air and crunching leaves. But even as I write these words, I know it was not the full moon that drew families out on a fall evening—it was the very real and methodical efforts of the Lowell schools.  My first stop was at the Freshman Academy at LHS, where 40 students and 30 parents had gathered to begin work on quarterly assessment projects. I noticed teens working in small groups with peers and tutors while parents sat nearby. Upstairs, I saw teens typing essays on computers with two English teachers there to help. The event, which was offered for the first time last night, had an encouraging turnout, and the plan is to hold similar workshops before the next three exam periods. One factor in the turnout is the ConnectEd program which enables school staff to call the homes of students. (ConnectEd is also being used to help with attendance and tardiness.)The parents I met were glad to be there and thrilled to have their students supported by tutors, teachers, project supplies, computers, and color printers.

From there, I drove a few blocks to the Murkland Elementary School where more than 100 people were enjoying “Family Math Night.” Each month the Murkland School, which has one of our highest populations of poor and minority students, sponsors a family event. Last night’s event included math games, snacks, and drawings for prizes. Again, staff was on hand to help with the activities. Perhaps what was magical about the evening (along with the amazing moon) was that the schools are doing a better job of reaching out to families—from our youngest students to our teens—and the families are actually responding. Together, we are creating an education community that recognizes school is important and learning is something we must all support.

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Education Forum this Saturday

It’s too early to rake leaves, so please plan to attend the 2nd Annual Mary Bacigalupo Educational Forum at the Stoklosa School (corner of School and Broadway) this Saturday, 8:00 am – noon (coffee will be served). This year’s Forum features nationally-known speaker and educator Joyce Epstein (Director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University) and is entitled:  “Then and Now: New Directions for Family, School and Community Partnerships.” The Forum is free and open to the public – please join other concerned community members as we strive to continue the efforts to provide community support for children that we began at last year’s forum. 

Last year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Jeffrey Howard of The Efficacy Institute . Over 200 people attended and were engergized by Dr. Howard’s statement that “smart is something you can get.”   Dr. Howard’s message that the schools can’t do it alone and that a community-wide campaign of proficiency for all children is necessary to our school district’s success gave us the big picture.  Dr. Epstein’s National Network of Partnership Schools can give us the tools and examples of how to make it happen, school-by-school and student-by-student. 

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Parent’s view of school progress

When my son started in Kindergarten at the Bailey School, I was amazed that there was no playground at the school.  Why build an elementary school without a playground?  I joined a group of parents who worked with the city, raised funds and eventually got a playground for the school.  After years of driving to Chelmsford to use their playgrounds, we finally had one, but it was too late for my son.  He was too old for playgrounds by then.  This experience is one that has been repeated throughout my 13 years of involvement with the Lowell schools.  

Just recently I happened to be at a friend’s house when her sixth-grade daughter brought home a paper showing “Key Skills and Strategies for the School Year.”  The chart was for English Language Arts and listed three sets of skills – reading comprehension; grammar, vocabulary and other mechanics; and writing.  For each skill there was a strategy under 7 different genres (fiction, non-fiction, poetry/drama, etc).  For example, looking across from Reading Comprehension to the column under Biography, one of the strategies is “determining fact from opinion.”  The Writing strategy under Biography is to do a research report.   It is the kind of thing I would have been thrilled to see when my own child was in Middle School.  I found out that this an effort on the part of the school department to keep parents informed about what their child will learn during the whole year and is being done for Math and ELA in every school, K-8.  Not only does it inform you as a parent, there is a feeling that there is finally consistency across the system.  As with many of the improvements in our school system, from smaller class sizes, to the literacy initiatives at the elementary schools and increased Algebra readiness at the middle school, it came too late for us. Still, it is heartening to see these and other signs that the schools continue to make progress.  

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Tsongas names Martin …District Director

The rumors are true. Last night, I received a call from Athletic Director Brian Martin, who is also a former Lowell councilor, mayor and city manager, announcing that he will be the chief of staff  district director for our newly elected Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, working from her office here in downtown Lowell. As much as I am excited for Martin, it is a loss for Lowell High School’s athletics department. In his brief tenure on the job, he managed to increase student participation in athletics by 30% while also increasing minority participation by 31%–huge factors when you consider how being involved in school activities often helps keep students engaged in their education.  As athletic director, Martin was also key to developing more sports offerings at the middle schools, which served as feeder programs for the high school. During our conversation last night, he promised to “not leave us in the lurch,” but I know he is also anxious to get started in his new role of serving the Fifth District. For my part, I promised him that he’d be hearing from me regarding increased federal spending for education. (The federal government spends an astoundingly miniscule amount on education—less than one percent of the entire budget.) So, congratulations to Brian Martin, and we’ll be in touch!

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New movie updates immigrant story

Don’t miss the premier this Thursday, Oct. 25, of “Immigrant Stories of Lowell,” a film produced this summer by five Lowell High students and five graduate students from UMass, which will be shown at the Revolving Museum at 7 p.m. Working as a team, the students (whose members originated from four continents) spoke with 25 people from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and several African countries about why they chose to come to Lowell, how they adapted to life in the city, and how they maintain their culture for future generations. Looking past differences in culture and traditions, the students discovered that most people, no matter what their background, strive for the same thing: a better life and a bright future for the next generation. The team compiled what they learned as part of this summer’s CITA project and incorporated it into the 25-minute I-Movie.

posted in Art, Education | 0 Comments

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